Local named to new Child Welfare Council
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Coweta County resident Duaine Hathaway is one of 21 Georgians named this week to the state’s new Child Welfare Reform Council.
The council is tasked with undertaking a complete review of the Department of Family and Children’s Services and advising Gov. Nathan Deal on possible executive agency reforms and legislative fixes.
Hathaway, who has lived in Coweta since the 1990s, is the executive director of Georgia CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates. Georgia CASA is the parent organization for the 47 local CASA affiliates that serve foster children in 143 counties, including Coweta.
Deal created the reform council in mid-March, and announced the council’s members last week.
During this year’s Georgia legislative session, there was a push to privatize the state’s child welfare system. Deal’s announcement of the council came in the midst of that push.
“After meeting with numerous stakeholders, including former foster youth, juvenile court judges, providers and child advocates, it was clear there was a need for a more deliberate reform process of the child welfare system,” Deal said in announcing the creation of the council. “We have no greater responsibility than caring for our most vulnerable populations. If we do nothing else, we must always do everything in our power to assure that our children are safe and that they get their best shot at a good life. I am confident this council will produce meaningful and thoughtful reform recommendations.”
The Child Welfare Reform Council is patterned after the Criminal Justice Reform Council, which was appointed several years and suggested many reforms that have now become law.
“It’s about the children,” said Hathaway. “It’s important for us to make sure we’ve got the best practices and make sure that the children are being taken care of in a proper way.”
Hathaway said he hopes the council will “have a laser-like focus on improving the lives of children in the child welfare system and improving and strengthening the child welfare system.”
There have been “a lot of conversations during this last legislative session,” Hathaway said.
With the year-long council, “we can take a diligent, reflective look and really make sure we’re” finding out exactly what needs to be improved and making good recommendations.
“The conversation needs to be about what is the best way to make sure that our children have opportunities and experiences, these children who have been abused or neglected,” he said.
“Instead of jumping to conclusions, let’s make sure we are really understanding the root causes and weaknesses of the system,” he said. “There are a lot of strong points in the system. Let’s not rush to judgment.”
Instead, he wants to “make a thoughtful, purposeful evaluation.
“I think that is what the council is designed to do.”
Child Welfare agencies are “under-appreciated, underfunded, under-resourced and overwhelmed,” Hathaway said. “And it’s not just unique to Georgia.”
“There are a lot of great people involved, working in the system. And a lot of people doing a lot of good things,” he said. But “we hear about the bad ones.”
Hathaway has worked with CASA for 14 years and brings that experience to the council.
CASAs are trained community volunteers who speak for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the court system.
“We bring attention to the children’s needs,” Hathaway said. “When a volunteer is assigned to a child, they become very familiar with all the things going on in that child’s life. They can understand if there are medical needs, emotional needs.” Children may move from foster home to foster home but usually keep the same CASA. “We try to, hopefully, be the voice there that can help stabilize the child,” he said.
CASA volunteers are “ordinary individuals, from our own communities, who do extraordinary work on behalf of these children, such as helping to unite children with relatives, encouraging parents to get their lives back on track, helping to find adoptive homes, ensuring children's educational and medical needs are met, and aiding foster youth with needed skills to transition to adulthood.”
Hathaway is excited about what the new council can do for children. “I think it ought to be an ongoing process, where you have an evaluation team that is monitoring and making sure everything is working in a proper fashion,” he said.
“It’s got to be about DFCS, it’s got to be about the state. But it’s really only about the children,” Hathaway said. “We need to figure out how things ought to work for them to have the best opportunities in life."